It’s mid-winter in Manhattan and Graham Nash is settling into a chat on Zoom and thinking about the setlist for his upcoming Australian tour.
The man with an accent that slips between Manchester and Los Angeles has been in the rock ‘n’ roll business for more than 60 years.
For context: when John, Paul and George pre-Beatles sang Buddy Holly’s Thinking It Over at a talent contest in 1958 at Manchester’s Hardwick Hippodrome, Graham Nash was there to see the talented threesome perform as Johnny and the Moondogs,
After enjoying a string of hit singles in the 1960s with his band The Hollies, Nash moved to the US in 1968 to be one-third of Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN). He fell in love with Joni Mitchell and wrote songs adored by generations.
The 81-year-old is a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee (The Hollies and CSN) and was also inducted twice into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, for his work with CSN and as a solo artist. And Nash is still at it, with a new solo album released in 2023.
This musician’s first clever career move was being born in Blackpool in the middle of World War II. His mother had been evacuated from working-class Salford. Blackpool was off Hitler’s Luftwaffe hit-list as the Führer was hoping to secure the seaside town as a holiday destination for his military generals. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
“Strangely enough, about three months ago I played a show in Blackpool,” Nash begins. “To stand in that room where I took my first breath was an amazing feeling. I was born in the Kimberly Hotel. It was on the waterfront. Blackpool is like Coney Island … lots of t-shirts and candy floss. But I don’t want to go back there again. Too many t-shirt sellers.”
The Hollies took their name as a tribute to American rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, Buddy Holly. Nash’s earlier love was Lonnie Donegan and skiffle music.
“Skiffle gave every 14-year-old kid in the north of England something to do other than kicking a can around,” he says of the genre that lit a fuse under him.
“After that, I tie the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly together in the same breath. I went to a fair and they were playing the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino and The Platters. I got totally involved in American popular music and I’ve loved it ever since.”
Starting The Hollies as a songwriter, Nash contributed to top-40 smashes such as Stop, Stop, Stop, On a Carousel and Carrie Anne.
It was Nash who encouraged his bandmates to write their own material. Before the group started penning hits for themselves, they relied on more established writers. Perhaps the band’s most famous discovery was a Salford teenager, Graham Gouldman, who later went on to form 10CC.
“We went to his house and he played us Look Through Any Window and he played us Bus Stop. And before we got up to leave, we said, ‘What else have you got?’. He played us one he’d just written … but he couldn’t give it to us as he’d already promised it to somebody else. It was No Milk Today. He said, ‘I gave it to my friends Herman’s Hermits this morning’.”
Almost in spite of The Hollies’ remarkable chart success and their place in the British Invasion, Nash’s destiny was always to live and work in the US.
“The first time I went to America I swore to my friend Allan Clarke – who started The Hollies with me in December 1962 – that I didn’t think I’d go back to England,” Nash says. “I loved this new country. I knew that from the moment I set foot in America. I knew, somehow, I’d end up in America.
“The somehow was me and David (Crosby) and Stephen (Stills) singing together for the first time. It changed my life completely. I wanted to follow that sound. I gave up everything. I gave up a successful band. I gave up a certain amount of notoriety in terms of being well known in England. I gave it all up. I wanted that sound and so did David and so did Stephen.”
Nash’s own songs – and the music he recorded with Crosby, Stills and (occasionally) Neil Young, burn bright in the culture to this day.
Nash wrote Marrakesh Express for CSN. His song Teach Your Children was recorded when they added Young to the band. Our House was written about his domestic life with his muse Joni Mitchell in Laurel Canyon. Military Madness is as relevant today as when Nash cut it on his first solo album in 1971.
Last year Nash released his first album in seven years. It saw him tackling political issues and leaving room for musings on matters of the heart. He called the album, rather aptly, Now.
“I’ve been a songwriter and a record maker for a long time,” he says. “It’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, you just get better – hopefully! That’s what I’ve realised. You can go off in different directions, but as long as you’re moving forward that’s the important thing.”
His advice for any aspiring songwriter or performer is close at hand.
“If you have a dream of being a musician, and you think you want to do it … chase it down. That’s what I did. And it’s what my friends did. You’re learning every day. Don’t let anyone cause you to give up.”
Graham Nash: Sixty Years of Songs and Stories tours Australia from March 7 (tour details grahamnash.com) and plays the QPAC Concert Hall on March 26.
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